Do you often see the big picture at the expense of the details or focus on the details and miss the big picture? Neither answer is right or wrong—anymore than it is right or wrong to prefer mayonnaise over salad dressing or vice versa. You don’t know why. You just do. Similarly, the method your brain uses to process and synthesize information and events and the approach your brain prefers to take when seeking solutions to problems is simply a matter of inclination.
This example of the big picture versus the details is a matter of how you perceive information from your environment, primarily through sensation or intuition, according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI. One who perceives through intuition tends to see the big picture; one who perceives through sensation tends to see the details. As an intuit, I tend to see the big picture.
When something happens, it’s not like I choose to see one way or another. Rather, my brain is on autopilot; it would take conscious effort for me to see any other way. It takes even greater effort to become aware of which method your brain prefers. For example, one minor detail, “detail oriented” has been a staple phrase on my resume ever since I can remember, and I thought it was true until I just wrote the previous paragraph.
It Is What It Is—Or Is It?
I first took the MBTI test in 1999 and read about my type and the types of those closest to me at the time, and I said, that’s interesting, how closely the descriptions matched my perception of others—as well as their perceptions of themselves. I compared the mating temperaments of the NF (me) to the SP (my husband at the time) , and it hurt. It reminded me how I felt when I was committing myself to a lifelong relationship with him, and all he had to say was, “Well, it depends. So long as I don’t get bored.” Disappointed, I put the book back on the shelf. What could I do? It is what it is! That’s what he always said. We went our separate ways the next year.
More than a decade later, when I finally read Jung’s “Approaching the Unconscious,” my eyes popped when I read the section titled “The problem of types,” in which Jung said that he found personality classifications “particularly helpful when I am called upon to explain parents to children and husbands to wives, and vice versa. They are also useful in understanding one’s own prejudices” .
I did not recall that Jung had anything to do with personality types or the Myers-Briggs test, which is the only name I knew it by, much less that it was from Jung’s book Psychological Types that Myers-Briggs extrapolated their 16 personality types and later devised a test that would attempt to evaluate a person’s type, which I quickly learned when I launched my Internet Explorer.
Fired up, I began Googling various terms and eventually found myself at an interesting website called Trans4Mind, which expounded on Jung’s viewpoint: “Typology helps us to recognize our innate strengths, weaknesses, and other characteristics ... However, we do not have to view our type as a fatalistic limitation” .
Jung loosely defined introverts and extroverts as personality types that determine how a person experiences life, whether inwardly or outwardly and to what degree. He refined these two types to differentiate what he called the four functions of the mind: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition, and that in each person, one or more of these functions predominate. Jung said that to become whole, all four functions should contribute equally.
At last, all of this was making great sense to me. After all, what was the point of writing a whole book about categorizing types if they were not useful and if they could not be altered? I was finally convinced that understanding different personality types can actually help improve your relationships and—what surprised me most—is that your psychological type is not engraved on your forehead.
And, of course: No wonder just learning about the types wasn’t enough to “activate” any real change in the relationship between Griffin and I. It would require recognition of these principles and efforts to apply them. And then later, as I witnessed a conflict between an introverted sensor and an extroverted intuitive, it became perfectly clear why my sister-in-law and I clashed almost immediately when she invited me into her world.
A Case In Point
The following scenario actually occurred and demonstrates how different people—based on their dominant psychological types—interpret events differently.
Setting the Stage: My brother walked into the kitchen, where my sister-in-law and I were sitting at the table chatting, and showed us a stack of colorful 60s pictures that he had printed from the Internet that I was to use to build a 60s poster for an upcoming party.
Extravert (me, although I tested as an introvert in 2000): As my brother thumbed through each of the images, I gushed stuff like, “Ooh! Ah! That is so cool. That’s awesome!” I could see right away that the poster was going to look really cool and diversified and fun when it was finished.
Introvert (my sister-in-law): As my brother thumbed through each of the images, she didn’t say a word. When he finished